Connecting Students through Buncee

Leveraging  the right tools for remote learning

By Rachelle Dene Poth, Spanish and STEAM Teacher, @Rdene915

One of the things that I love the most about ​Buncee is that it can be used in so many different ways, not only for instruction in our classrooms but also in life. I have used Buncee to create cards for family and friends, personal business cards, graphics for Twitter chats and webinars, quote graphics for my books, invitations, and more. When I decide to use digital tools in my classroom, I want students to practice the content in a more authentic and engaging way, while developing skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity that can be transferred to their future. In using digital tools like Buncee, my hope is that they will also use them in other classes, for personal use, and will share them with family too.

 

Buncee is more than just a creation tool, it is a supportive educator network that is invested in fostering connections, expressing kindness and gratitude. There have been  many initiatives for classrooms and families around the world to join in, most recently Hugs for Heroes. This is an amazing project worked on by Kristina Holzweiss, Barbie Monty and Amy Storer. Learn more about itand create your own!

Why Buncee?

Now with the shift to remote learning and educators looking for ways to connect with students and provide authentic and meaningful learning opportunities, I have been recommending Buncee more. As a multimedia creation tool, it offers so many possibilities for educators of any  content area or grade level, and provides resources for students, families and educators to get started right away. For ideas, check out some of the  Coffee Talks!

Finding time to explore new resources can be a challenge because our lives as educators become quite busy and we may find ourselves lacking in time to really explore a variety of options for use in our classroom. With the sudden transition to remote instruction, this is another one of the reasons that I recommend and choose Buncee and appreciate the team’s investment in providing exactly what educators, students and their families need. It truly has become a go to multi-purpose platform that can do so much, that I feel pretty comfortable in saying that the possibilities really are endless when it comes to creation with Buncee.

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Fostering the SEL skills and making connections

At the start of each school year and throughout the year, I focus my efforts on student relationships, learning about my students and also providing opportunities for them to learn about one another. In the past I have done this by using activities in our classroom such as ice breakers or having students work together on different review games and other in class collaborations like that. Earlier this year I created a project for students to learn about the Spanish language and culture and also to engage more in learning about one another. I came up with a project focused on using the “About Me” template in Buncee. I wanted students to share who they were and create one slide to show this using words, animations, stickers, and other add-ins. My hope was that by looking at each student’s slide, we would understand one another better and relate to each other based on similarities and differences.

I also thought this would be a good opportunity for them to choose and learn a little about a place where Spanish is spoken and create an “About_(​country​)_____” to share that information with the rest of the class. But I also realize that there are many students who are visual learners like me and I wanted to encourage students to be able to quickly look at and process information and represent it in a different way. Rather than simply restating the same content, push them to apply it at a higher level or find a different way to demonstrate an understanding of a concept.

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I also wanted students to choose a Spanish speaking country and I placed a limit on the number of actual words they could use because I wanted them to represent what they had learned about the place that had chosen using the Buncee features. The topics they had to include were: languages spoken, school subjects, foods, activities, and other information like that that they could display using Buncee.

How did it go?

It was a fun activity and I learned so much about them and they learned about each other and what life is like in countries where Spanish is spoken. We shared them on a Buncee board ​which made it easy to access and created a colorful display of students and their creativity. Students shared their slides and gave a brief description in Spanish about themselves and made connections with their classmates. We had good conversations exchanging our likes, dislikes, and learning about our backgrounds.

For the second slide, students were able to get a quick glimpse of different Spanish-speaking countries and begin to understand the culture of some of the places they would be studying. It was fun that they could only include 3D objects, animations, stickers or emojis, to represent the information for each country. So for visual learners, being able to choose the right object to use to share this information made the learning stick a little bit more. Students who enjoy creating but not drawing really enjoyed the activity.

A recent feature is the ability for students to comment and give feedback on the boards. This is a great way to encourage online student interaction whether through comments or emojis!

nullOne other feature that I thought was important to share with students was the new Immersive Reader and how it works. We enjoyed looking at all of the capabilities with it and using Buncee for learning!  Check out the video to learn more here!

Check out  the information from Buncee for Remote Learning and everything you need to get started here.  Want to learn more about  Buncee? Sign up for their live webinars happening each day, Monday through Friday  at 12:00 and 3:00 pm EST. Sign up here.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

How I Created a Podcast PD for Teachers

Guest post by Laura Cahill @engageducate

I’m always looking for ways to innovate professional development. Teachers are busy people and sometimes those after-school, face-to-face sessions just aren’t doable. I actually prefer PD that comes to me…webinars, Twitter chats, blog posts, podcasts…so I ran with that and created a podcast PD for the teachers in my district. Think book club, only with podcast episodes and online discussions. This was really simple to set up, especially because we are a G Suite for Education district but this could be done in other platforms as well. To get this running, I:

  1. Posted a sign-up to my district (this could be done at any level; district/school/grade-level/etc.)
  2. Created a Google Form with links to 20 episodes for participants to vote on (I chose all Cult of Pedagogy episodes for this initial session because I am familiar with the high quality of them but episodes could be from any/many podcasts.)
  3. Chose the top five episodes and created a Google Classroom with the link to one episode per “assignment”.
  4. Added open-ended discussion questions (What resonates for you? What do you agree/disagree with? How can you see this working in your own setting?)
  5. Set two-week “due dates” for each episode.
  6. Sat back and watched amazing conversation unfold…I didn’t really sit back, I participated, BUT I was shocked at how rich and thoughtful the conversation was!

Some logistics:

  • I offered 2 professional development hours for each week (10 total), assuming that listening takes about an hour and posting/commenting takes another hour.
  • We require that our PD participants demonstrate learning through some type of product, so we are going to create reflection videos at the end.

The participants are already asking for additional sessions and I’m thinking that participants could make suggestions for podcast episodes in the future! Such a simple solution to creating accessible and relevant PD for educators!

 

************ Check out my THRIVEinEDU PodcastHere!

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

An In-Home Learning Strategy for Busy Quarantine Families

Guest post byAndrew Easton: teacher, edu-blogger, podcaster, and future author for Dave Burgess Consulting Inc. Follow him on Twitter @EastonA1, on Instagram @andrew.d.easton, or at andrewdeaston.com/

 

In our household there are two teachers and two primary-age students, and during our first week staying at home, we had a problem. As adults, we still have work responsibilities, and at ages 5 and 8, the kids need help navigating the five subjects of schoolwork they receive each day.

Our first thought was to set a schedule so that routines would be established. In that way, designated times would kick-start certain subjects and tasks. 

Fail. 

What we quickly realized was that sometimes the kids needed support with certain tasks, and if there happened to be a Zoom staff meeting or any other commitment that prevented us from supporting them in that immediate moment, the structure fell apart. The schedule needed more flexibility.

Then, we tried a checklist.

Fail.

Next, we tried using a checklist. I mean, who doesn’t love the feeling of crossing things off your to-do list?!? Well, the answer to that is my children. Even though a checklist does not have to be done in a specific order, don’t try telling that to them. The checklist was frustrating, and stopping a task to take a break routinely killed all their motivation to continue on with their work.

 

Finally, an answer.

Recognizing the shortcomings of our initial attempts, we felt optimistic about using a “To-Do, Doing, Done” board. The idea was that each day we would write down each item on their to-do list on a separate post-it note. Those post-its get placed in their “To-Do” column, and then as they start a task, the post-it moves to the “Doing” column. Once complete, it gets moved to “Done” and five completed tasks earns a sticker that is worth 30 minutes of free time.

Success.

Here’s what’s happened since we started. The kids now wake up each morning and run to their board to search through their list for the day. We intentionally scatter the post-its so that there is no implied order, and we like to put a fun, surprise activity on a post-it and hide it in the mix. 

Oh, and in case you are wondering, yes, chores also go on post-its.

The “Doing” column has also been a godsend. There are times throughout the day when our responsibilities as adults make us momentarily unavailable to lead them through a portion of their work. The kids now know that they can leave a task in the “Doing” column and start something else if an adult is busy.

The “Doing” column has also been great for motivation. When the kids choose to stop mid-activity, we ask them to reflect on how close they are to finishing and to move that post-it to the place between the start/finish lines in the “Doing” column that reflects just how close they are to completing that task. Last week, my daughter had stopped her writing earlier in the day, but she was bent on moving the post-it to done. Seeing just how close she was to finishing, she, unprompted, wrote for an additional 30 minutes later that night.

 

Overall, this board has made our household happier and more productive. It’s helped us to maintain a more positive learning dynamic during these stressful times, which is why I wanted to share our story. I hope this strategy can help you! 

 

So from our family to yours, please know that we are thinking about you all and are sending our best wishes your way.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Teaching HardDoes Not Always Equate to Teaching Well

Opinions expressed are those of Guest Blogger

Guest Post by Kwame Sarfo-Mensah, Founder of Identity Talk Consulting, LLC. (www.identitytalk4educators.com

Math Educator & Teacher Development Specialist, @identityshaper

 

I have been in many situations throughout my teaching career where I spent countless hours planning, what I thought, was the greatest lesson ever!   I then delivered the lesson plan with the expectation that all of my students will be successful. Over the course of the unit, I provided classwork & homework assignments, conducted small group instruction for students in need of additional support, sacrificed my lunch periods to tutor struggling students, and pretty much did everything in my power to reach all of my scholars.  After weeks of teaching my heart out, I gave my students an end-of-unit test with the confidence that all my efforts would translate to passing test scores. To my dismay, the converse of that expectation happened and that left me totally dumbfounded and wondering where it all went wrong.  

 

For too many of us, we’re quick to place all the blame on our students for their failures and stand on the notion that we did everything we needed to do to fully prepare our students for success.  As I write this piece, I’m not questioning the effort and energy that I exerted into our lessons nor am I questioning my dedication and love for them. The paramount question I had to ask was whether I taught the lesson well enough for my students to demonstrate mastery of the academic standard.   Given my past failures, I surmised that my students had gaps in their understanding because I had gaps in my own understanding of the academic standard. That being said, I had to ask myself the following questions:

 

Did I unpack the language of the academic standard? It is one thing to identify the academic standard but it’s another thing to decipher its language and develop a complete understanding of what it actually means.  I visited the Common Core Standards website to identify the standard of focus and read it carefully to identify the verbs (i.e. what students need to do), as well as the nouns (i.e. what students need to know) within it.  Some standards require students to perform multiple skills so I needed to make sure to highlight each individual skill.        

 

Did I identify the prerequisites of the academic standard?  To determine the starting point for my lesson, I had to figure out what prior knowledge students should already have in order to master the standard.  As I’ve taught previous lessons, I realized that I didn’t give some students a fair shot at having success because I never addressed the gaps in their basic skills foundation.  By identifying the prerequisites of the standard, I was able to determine if I needed to reteach previous grade-level concepts before formally introducing the new standard to the students.

 

Did I closely monitor and assess my students’ progress throughout the unit? Throughout any lesson or unit we teach, we should be actively assessing our students’ understanding of the content.  The assessment of student progress towards academic standards should be daily and ongoing. Regardless of whether the assessment is formative or summative, we should be gathering data and analyzing what type of errors they are making in their thinking.  Are there specific concepts within the unit where students are demonstrating a level of mastery? When students are sharing their thinking verbally or through writing, are we solely focusing on their response or going the extra mile by asking them clarifying questions to investigate the thought process they underwent to arrive at their response?  The bottom line is this…….if we are proactively assessing how our students are progressing throughout the unit, then we should have an accurate gauge of how well they will perform when given a final assessment.

 

Did I make the tasks challenging enough and accessible to each and every student in my class?  With any new standard, teachers have to thoroughly assess the scope of it and determine the appropriate tasks or assignments that our students need to complete in order to build their knowledge of the standard.  Every student enters the lesson at a specific developmental level so using a uniform instructional method probably won’t yield the best results. Some students may be further along the learning curve than their peers so teachers need to differentiate their instructional approach and create tasks that will meet the diverse academic needs of their students. To assess the difficulty level of the task, I used Bloom’s Taxonomy as a reference point.  If I’m only giving my students “easy” tasks so they can feel good about themselves, I’m doing them a huge disservice.

 

Teaching is a hard enough job as it is.  With the overemphasis of standardized testing, we sometimes find ourselves in a position where we don’t always have the time allotted to thoroughly assess how well we are teaching.  However, our students cannot excel academically if we don’t develop the habit of asking the aforementioned questions and take the time to evaluate our performance as facilitators. If we are bold enough to point the finger at our students when they fail, then we must be equally bold enough to point it back at ourselves when we fall short.

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**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Immersive HyperDocs in Minecraft Education Edition

Guest Post by Matthew Nickerson, Instructional Technology Specialist, AACPS

Professional Learning Specialist, i2e, @dadxeight

Author: All the Microsoft Tools You Need To Transform Your Classroom

 

 

Are you familiar with HyperDocs?  You can learn more about them on their website, but essentially it is using one document (They specifically say a Google Doc, but it works the same with a document in Word Online.) that contains all the elements of your highly engaging lesson.   Although the “hyper” refers to hyperlinks, it is not just a bunch of urls pasted on a page. HyperDocs should have a blend of multiple ways to access content as well as a variety of activities for students to engage with the content in addition to alternatives for assessment os learning.  In short, a good HyperDoc addresses all of UDL– multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation and multiple means of action and expression.

If a HyperDocs are supposed to be “visually engaging and packaged learning experiences as it says on their site, how much more visually engaging can you get than being fully immersed into a Minecraft world?

 

Let’s take a look at applying the principles of a HyperDoc within Minecraft Education Edition.  First, there is an immersive world to build a story in.  Any way we can build a story is a great way to get students engaged.  This has been widely known in business, particularly marketing, but as usual, education is a little bit behind.  (You’d think this is one trend education wouldn’t  be behind on!  The Minecraft platform has multiple ways to distribute content, but it can also be a portal to other content platforms.  Likewise, there are several ways of encouraging students to create or engage with lesson content, as well as ways to assess student learning.  Once again, it can also be the doorway to other tools that accomplish these tasks.

 

First, let’s build a story.  You can start from scratch with an infinite world in Minecraft and build what you need.  Well, maybe you don’t even need to actually build it. I recently had a request for a specific lesson topic, and I found a lesson plan on Education.Microsoft.com that addressed that topic, as a murder mystery.  It used some Word documents to deliver the lesson material.  I adopted the murder mystery idea, but used the /locate command in Minecraft to find an existing mansion, teleported my character there and turned the mansion into a hotel.  I then filled the hotel with NPC characters, and took each of the puzzles from the Word document, each of which was a clue, and “distributed” those to students through the NPCs.

 

Because there are multiple biomes to choose from in the Minecraft:EE library, it’s easy to select a custom setting for your story.  Another way I like to start is by taking an existing lesson from the Minecraft Lesson library and just replace the academic content.  Some of the lessons have great bones- the world’s have already been created for you, and you can swap out the questions and prompts with your own topics. 

 

Now let’s consider ways to distribute content to students.  The most time intensive way might be to build structures. For example, you can create the setting for a novel or short story.  If I need to do that, I pay my 9-year-old. He works for cheap, since, well, I’m paying him to play Minecraft. In the absence of a 9-year-old coworker, don’t fear.  Within Minecraft there are signs, slates, posters and boards 

that you can write on if you want to deliver instructions, guidance or questions via written text.  You can also grab a book and quill and write things there, and leave them for students to pick up.  Each of those items (except the “sign”) can also be edited so students can write their responses in or on those tools. 

All of them also have Microsoft’s Immersive Reader, an entire suite of reading accessibility tools, built in.  All text inside of Minecraft Education Edition has these accessibility features.

 

However, what makes Minecraft amenable to the HyperDocs model, is that NPC’s (non-player characters) can be easily programmed to send students to websites.  

You can essentially insert a Quizlet set of vocabulary in your world, or even an entire self-paced Nearpod lesson.  Looking for more collaboration? Remember that every Word document, Google Doc, PowerPoint or Google Slides slideshow have a unique URL.  You can give that url to an NPC so when a student clicks on that button, that document opens online. When multiple players, each playing in their own copy of the Minecraft world (or in the same copy if the teacher is hosting it), they can all collaborate in that same document or slideshow.

 

The same holds true for student work and assessment.  Within Minecraft students can build, then take a picture with the camera.  Pictures are saved in a portfolio, where students can type in a caption.  Or, they can choose pictures to insert into a book and quill, where they have far more space to write, or simply write without pictures.  They can also take pictures of any signs, slates, posters or boards they write on. Both portfolios and books can be exported as a PDF and shared with the teacher through Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, OneDrive or Google Drive.  However, you can also use an NPC to send students to FlipGrid to record a video response, Padlet to brainstorm together, link to a quiz in Microsoft Forms or Google Forms, or an assignment in Teams, OneNote Class Notebook or Google Classroom, among many other options.

 

The idea of a HyperDoc is solid pedagogy in an engaging format that provides variety and student choice.  They can include a story component or not. They are usually visually compelling. By taking these same principles into Minecraft, it’s like a far more immersive HyperDoc, a Hyper-HyperDoc!

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Reflection

Guest Post by April McKnight (@rilmcknight)

Reflection is concerned with consciously looking at and thinking about our experiences, actions, feelings, and responses, and then interpreting or analyzing them in order to learn from them. That is a big statement and a hard topic for our students. So how are we as educators supposed to work towards helping our students reflect on their thinking / learning and that of others.

So first I ask, as teachers and educators do we spend time on self reflection. Do we have the time to look back at our day of learning and “reflect on the information we receive through observation, experience, and other forms of communication to solve problems, design products, understand events, and address issues.” Yes that quote is straight out of our core competencies for critical and reflective thinking.

Yes I know every teacher is doing their self reflection in some way whenever they can but ho do we help students learn this process and see the benefits of reflection.

As a high school STEM educator, I always had reflection as part of my labs. We use our three go to questions for every lab:

What worked the best?

What needs to be tweaked?

What could we do to make it better?

This became common place in my classes and extended to all our work. Students would reflect on their own learning and ask each other to assess their work based on these questions.

As the new BC curriculum came around, I started to look at the self reflection during our projects. We have always looked at the process as more important. Photo journals or design changed diagrams or written reports were used to show their journey. But now we wanted to add in more self reflection along the way. After classroom discussions, it was decided that we would do weekly self reflection on large projects as a journal, blog or vlog. Students used the 3 questions to show their progress. The learning became very evident and assessment of their learning process was easier too.

I feel we need to all use reflection as part of our classroom routines and it wont feel so daunting in the end. It will make our assessment for, of and as learning much easier.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

To Be a Global Educator

Guest post by Ava-Gaye K Blackford (@BlackfordAva)

(I read this post and and agree with the foreword below, Ava is an inspiration and her passion for education is clear.)
From Ava’s blog

I had the pleasure of connecting with Ava through my work with Participate. I was helping to pilot a new professional development program, and Ava was one of the brave teachers who took a risk and learned alongside her students as they looked for ways to make their school lunch healthier through multiple student-driven avenues. I was immediately impressed with her motivation and excitement toward teaching and learning and her openness to feedback. Here’s what Ava believes about education and what she’s been up to since I last worked with her.


lunchAva.jpg

I believe that teaching is the foundation for all other careers which requires compassionate and patient individuals who have a passion for scaffolding students and imparting knowledge. I feel that it is the ability to help others to acquire new information, competencies or values and implementing specific interventions to help students who need support to learn particular things. I also believe that teachers are born and not made. I know that I am an outstanding teacher because I am able to connect with and relate to my students to bring out their true potential. I also do not crumble under pressure or when I face obstacles instead I persevere. I am intrinsically motivated, and the reward I find in teaching is the personal satisfaction I obtain when I see students learn something new and achieve academic success and development. Being a part of the Participate international teaching program has been a very fulfilling and life-changing experience, and I recommend more teachers to gravitate towards this adventure.

My decision to join participate was due to several reasons. First, I wanted to share my culture by acting as a Cultural Ambassador so people can learn the uniqueness of my Jamaican culture as well as learning about other cultures. Secondly, I wanted the opportunity to travel the world, meet new people and build partnerships with stakeholders in the education system. Besides, I would be able to learn new strategies so that I may share with colleagues back home, learn about different technological devices, apps, and sites that may be used to boost students’ engagement and learning. Finally, to grow professionally as an educator. Reflecting on my journey thus far, I can safely say that I have achieved all of these goals and have grown into a productive Global Educator.

Currently, I have been assigned the role of Local Advisor. I have been granted the opportunity to guide two new Participate teachers and help them to transition smoothly in their new job position. As a local adviser, I serve as a mentor to new international teachers and share my own experiences, cultural opportunities, and ideas on how to be a successful exchange visitor teacher and cultural ambassador of their country.

School lunch project

School lunch project

 To be a successful exchange teacher, one has to capitalize on both human and physical resources present within the walls of the school to maximize students’ full potential, improve one’s self as a Global Educator and adjust to the school’s culture and climate. In my first year, I worked closely with the Academic coach to plan classroom routines and school-wide management procedures. The use of technology in my lessons made my work as a teacher easier because I am able to allow students to direct and take control of their own learning by conducting research, become involved in Project Based Learning, and participate in online quizzes. I researched different sites that I may use with students to boost active engagement and learning.

I share students’ work on Twitter, send emails and write letters to pen-pals in Jamaica and other countries like Mexico. We participate in video calls with students from Jamaica sharing culture or concepts learned, and we have even video called resource persons from Nigeria.

In addition, I try to globalize my lessons as much as possible. Students enjoy learning about other countries, and this makes learning more authentic and meaningful. I also collaborate with grade level teams to focus on differentiated learning opportunities for students to meet students where they are at. We also gather suitable resources and plan effective and developmentally appropriate instructional lessons and strategies. We progress monitor students and use data to set grade-level goals and identify students who need tier 2 or tier 3 interventions.

I have learned so much throughout my journey as a Participate teacher, and I have enjoyed sharing and showcasing my culture. My students and I participated in a Last Year’s Winter Celebration (December 2017) where were attired in Jamaican costumes and paraded for parents and community members to view. We also did a presentation where we sang Jamaican Christmas Carols like “Christmas a Come me Waan me Lama.” My colleagues, principal, students, and parents were fascinated by the performance, and we received positive feedback. This was the perfect opportunity to connect with the school community and bridge the gap between home and school.

Ava’s students learning about Jamaican culture.

Ava’s students learning about Jamaican culture.

We also prepared a Jamaican display for all to view, ask questions and learn about the Jamaican culture. Students seem to be eager to learn about other countries and cultures so by globalizing lessons this makes the teaching and learning process more meaningful and interesting. I have also done research and read about schools that have shown marked improvements in academics because of the inclusion of Global Education to the curriculum. This has helped me to develop a new level of understanding and depth to my teaching.

I have made a positive impact on my school and living community by allowing each stakeholder to develop vicarious experiences about my culture. In data meetings or team meetings, I help to include information about the Jamaican culture in our lessons. I also bring colleagues and community members Jamaican souvenirs, teach songs and stories from my culture and share past experiences about my country. I mount multiple display boards showcasing the Jamaican culture in the classroom, also during culture night and market day celebrations. For Market Day this past year, my students and I made Jamaican souvenirs such as key chains, flags, and bracelets. We were also mentioned in the Time News. You may click here to read the story.

Being a teacher means demonstrating the ability to provide authentic, engaging, meaningful and cultural learning experiences to cater to the needs of diverse learners. It also means equipping students with effective and efficient skills needed to function in a global society. I have learned to do this through imparting knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to be a global citizen, giving students the opportunity to build vicarious experiences and travel the world through virtual exchange. The world is becoming a smaller place due to advances in technology and mobility. Hence, students need to be globally prepared, develop self-awareness, cultural understanding and empathy so that they will be able to appreciate others and their culture. As Global educators, we should incorporate Global Instructional Practices used to integrate global concepts and lenses in the classroom meaningfully.

AVA JRNEY.png

My continuous participation in Professional Development activities has boosted my self-confidence and determination as an educator. When I return home to Jamaica, I also plan to conduct workshops to impart some of the fabulous strategies and interventions that I have learned here. I have already started sharing best practices with some of my colleagues back home, and they all seem to be loving them and are trying new things in their classroom.

Since writing this post, Ava was invited to present at Participate’s Global Schools Symposium on “Using Cooperative Learning Strategies to Boost Students’ Learning and Engagement”. In addition she attended a Life Lab PD in Santa Cruz, California, and she continues to inspire her students and the community through innovative projects like incorporating garden-based learning into the mainstream curriculum and being a facilitator at three of ABSS’ Core Four Professional Development workshop focusing on “Learning in the Outdoors.”

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

The “A” Word

  @deidre_roemer 

The first time I heard the word Autism I was teaching Early Childhood Special Education at an elementary school in Kapolei, Hawaii. It was very early in my teaching career, and I moved from teaching students with significant Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities in a self-contained setting at a middle school to teaching three and four year olds with various special needs in an inclusive setting with a Head Start class. Some of you may be thinking, why in the world would anyone move from Hawaii back to Wisconsin? That is an excellent question that I have asked myself regularly from November through February each year since, but my family is in the midwest. Family is more important that constant sunshine and living a few blocks from Waikiki Beach (at least that is what I tell myself :)).

As I reviewed the records of the students I would serve that year, I read about a young girl who was diagnosed with Autism. This was 1996, so it was long before Autism was as well known as it is now. It was also my first encounter with a learner who had the diagnosis. On our first day of school, her mom explained that she had echolalia (a new term to me at the time) and was a runner (another new term to me at the time). I quickly learned that echolalia meant that she repeated everything that was said all day long. Now, if you can get a picture of how much talking you do to a room of three and four-year-olds, you can see where someone following you around all day and repeating every word that you say is problematic. I also quickly learned that being a runner meant she takes off without warning and runs to anywhere and everywhere in the school and even out into the street. I had done all of my student teaching and my first couple of years of teaching working with older children who had a lot of mental health issues and behavior challenges, so this experience was certainly going to be a challenge.

I went home the first day beyond exhausted and started doing my research. This was at the time of dial-up internet, so getting access to information was not as easy and quick as it is now. I read lots of books and went to conferences. I used everything I had learned about shaping and helping learners control and change their own behavior to apply whatever strategies I could. I did not realize what I was doing at the time as there was not as much research available then about the science of the brain, but since I have learned about brain mapping and how you can create new neural pathways that make sense with where we found challenges and successes that year.

After the first few weeks of school, I realized that one of us was not going to make it through the school year if something did not change, and the four-year-old was winning. I started working closely with her parents, her doctor, other staff, and anyone else I could ask about strategies to help. We made visuals for everything and eventually trained her to follow cues to tell us what she needed instead of running away. The key to success was being more consistent in my practice than I had ever been before and making sure as a team we all used the same language and the same cues whenever we worked with her.

We ended up having a great year. She learned how to respond to real questions instead of repeating others, she told her mom she loved her for the first time (That was a great day!), she was able to play with others at recess with laughter, and she taught me a ton. I learned new ways to problem solve and how to see behavior as communication in a different way. I always understood that behavior was communication, but I was used to a lot of angry, acting out behavior. This was new stuff for me and helped me to see learners from an asset-based lens. This little girl, who happened to have Autism, had so many incredible gifts to offer the world; she just needed us to look for them in really unexpected ways. Although I went back to the mainland at the end of that year and back to working with older students, I have never forgotten all that she taught me that year and still talk about it almost twenty- five years later in sessions about how to work with children with unexpected behaviors in the classroom.

Since then, I have worked with many students who are on the Autism spectrum and their families. I know even more now about the communication, academic, and behavioral needs of these learners and have continued to learn so that I can help our teachers and leaders have the best skills to include them in every setting. I’ve learned about the entire spectrum and how varying the needs are across it. I know that if you know one learner with Autism, you know one learner with Autism and that what works for one rarely works for all. When I served as the Coordinator of Special Education for our school district, we started one of the first Autism specific programs for high school students in our area. We worked with grants and research organizations to get additional training for all teachers in understanding how to connect to and include students on the spectrum in meaningful ways. I have been able to support amazing teams of teachers and speech pathologists to develop a high school course based on the work of Michelle Garcia Winner in Social Thinking. Since then, our speech pathologists have expanded the work to running groups at most of our schools for students with special needs. Over the last two years, they have also trained many regular education teachers and school counselors to work with ALL learners on lessons in Social Thinking combined with the Zones of Regulation strategies from a very early age. Our goal is always that ALL of our learners can see their own place in a group, learn how to identify their needs, and learn strategies to feel empowered. When they understand their own social interactions and emotions, they are more likely to find a sense of belonging within a group and therefore want to contribute and create.

With all that I know now, you might be surprised to find out that it took me almost three years to use the word Autism in reference to our son, Nick. Our Nick has Autism, ADHD, and Dyslexia, which has turned out to be an opportunity to learn everything that is important in the world. Although professionally I knew a lot when we realized he was on the spectrum, you forget everything you know as a mom. It took me a long time to accept his diagnosis and talk about it with others. In a class for pre-service teachers at a local university, one of my students recently shared that one of her learners has “no support from home. His mom didn’t even come to his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting.” I have been really open about Nick, his diagnosis, and why school getting it right is so essential in our class. My response that it took me three years to say the “A” word when it came to my son shocked her, and it made me realized I should talk about that more.

I have been open about sharing many of our success stories and what we have learned in the last several years both at work and with my family and friends. I don’t always talk about the time when we lived in a world of grief for what he might not become or denial that others just didn’t know him well enough. If that is how I felt with years and years of professional experience, how does someone feel who is trying to navigate an impossible system of medical care with no background or connections to resources to find the right support within the system? If I find IEP meetings ridiculously intimidating when I ran them for many years, how does it feel to be a parent without that background knowledge in a room full of experts talking about what is wrong with their child and our plan to help? I have the support of family and friends who stick by me even when I am not in a place to receive that help. I have access to resources through my professional networks and the privilege of being able to get him to multiple therapies and services each week with the support of my husband and extended family that not everyone has. We recognize that and are thankful for it every day. We certainly don’t have it all figured out by any means, but we have found some alternative therapies that are game-changers and were able to move him to a school that we thought was a better fit for him where he is thriving.

When I think about why I was so afraid of the “A” word, it comes down to not wanting him to be seen as his disability before someone gets to know him as a person. I had accepted that he has special needs for years, but I was really fearful of the “A” word because many people want you to know everything they know about Autism before they ask you or him one question about Nick as a person. He has this amazing, gentle spirit and sees the world in a really beautiful way. He just doesn’t show that side of himself to many people, which also took me a long time to realize as I have always been one of “his people” and made some assumptions that others were having a similar relationship with him to the one that I have.

My fear that his relationships would be defined by his label impacted me and kept me from teaching him to own who he is and express how he thinks differently about the world, why, and what he needs from others for a long time. I feared that others who have sympathy for him instead of empathy and therefore not hold him to the highest standard or simply ignore him if they didn’t understand the disability and that he is more than his label. He has made me a better educator and leader, as I am much quicker to try to see everyone and every situation from an empathetic lens. I don’t always need to be able to understand why someone feels a particular way to recognize that those feelings are real and take that into consideration with a response or some support. In the role I get to serve in now, our experience in supporting him helps me to know why every classroom needs to be a place where every learner feels embraced as part of the community, appreciated for the gifts they bring, and given opportunities to create in ways that connect to who they are even if who they are is different than what we would typically expect.

At the end of the day, we all have to remember that we are each doing the best we can. We each have different levels of education and life experience that contribute to who we are and how we respond to the next challenge life throws at us. People expected my acceptance to be different based on my experience, but it was not. I love my children as much as my parents loved me and as much as the parents we serve love their children. Those without the skills to navigate the system or the background to know what to do to support their child who learns differently in school love them just as much and really do want the best. They may just have a harder time showing it and being vulnerable enough to share their story with us. Given how long it took me to share mine, I get it.

Providing Different Learning Tools

As educators, it is important that we find ways to provide more personalized learning experiences to meet the individual needs of our students. What this means is that beyond simply offering more choices in the types of assessments we offer students, we must do more by learning to understand the specific learning styles and interests of each of our students. We must differentiate our instruction and to do so requires that we develop a clear picture and gain a deeper understanding of the various learning styles of the students in our classrooms. When we do this, we can then design lessons that are focused on the specific student learning styles and offer more individualized choices for students. Whether that offers more options to work independently or in groups based on a specific topic, an area of interest or even based on the level of understanding of the content, we serve them best by having the right resources available for them.

Each of our students have specific needs and preferences for how they learn and we do the best for them when we help them to identify these preferences and then offer a variety of materials and resources for them to explore. It is not about always using a digital tool or shifting away from traditional methods, but rather being able to determine which of these options will work best for each of our students. It also means helping students to become more self-aware of their own interests. One change that has helped me to better identify these styles and guide students in my classroom is by using the station rotation model.

Through the use of stations, I am able to provide multiple activities that enable students to interact with the content in a variety of ways. There are tech and no-tech options, student and teacher-created materials, hands-on activities to choose from, and times where students decide on a focus for their group. By providing a variety of learning options for each student, giving them all the opportunity to explore, we empower students with more meaningful and personalized learning that will lead to more student engagement and content retention.

Learning Styles: The VARK Model

In 1987, Neil Fleming designed what has become known as the VARK model. Fleming developed this model as a way to help students learn more about their individual learning preferences. The VARK learning styles include: visual, auditory, read/write, and kinesthetic.

Personally, I have always been more of a visual and somewhat kinesthetic or “hands-on” learner. At varying points throughout my life, I can recall taking a test and being able to see specific notes that I had written in my notebook, but still being unable to respond to questions. I tended to create graphic organizers and had my system for making more visual connections with the content. Many of my students are visual learners and over the past two years, have often noticed that they have specific ways of processing the information in class as well as how they prepare and respond during assessments. We must be able to provide different options for our students where they can choose a format that will best suit their interests and needs in more authentic and personalized ways.

Visual Learners

Visual learners are more likely to use charts, icons, images and are able to more easily visualize information and as a result, can retain it longer. An estimate is that visual learners make up approximately 65% of the population, and remember 75% of what they read or see. Visuals learners prefer to do projects and presentations that involve creating visualizations of their learning. For visual learners, some good options include creating infographics, using Augmented and Virtual reality for creating immersive experiences, designing 3D objects, sketchnoting, or using digital tools such as Padlet or Wakelet to curate content in ways that promote better visualization of content. Visual learners would also benefit by creating a mindmap or making flashcards, which can also be done using a digital tool like Quizlet.

Auditory Learners

Auditory learners listen carefully and often focus on the tone or the rate of speech, and may also benefit more by having supplemental resources made available to them such as videos or audio recordings. Learners of this type can recall information such as song lyrics and conversations, and can often recreate a story more easily because of that auditory connection they have. There are many options to engage auditory learners more by selecting options that promote listening and speaking skills. Some ideas include using video response or podcasting tools to have students explain concepts or brainstorm ideas. Another option is by creating a more interactive presentation using a tool such as Voice Thread, students will connect with the sounds, dialogue, and tone used in a presentation such as this, where they can listen and respond.  Another idea is to use Flipgrid to post a question and have students also respond to classmates to further the discussion and promote higher-order thinking. Try using Synth to create a podcast for students to have the active listening component addressed, and invite students to listen and respond to the prompts by adding a thread to the podcast.

Read/Write Learners

Read/write learners prefer to have the text available to them in some written/tangible format. Whether students first take notes and then decide to rewrite their notes for additional practice, or read over their notes each day for review and class preparation, these learners benefit from sustained interactions with the text. The more they interact with written formats, the better equipped they are to understand the content. Beyond writing in pen or pencil, or creating a document, using some tools such as Kidblog, for writing a story and getting started with blogging is a good way to promote reading and writing opportunities. Another idea is to have students create a multimedia presentation with a tool like Buncee to tell a story, adding text and icons to make the content more meaningful. These options make the activities more authentic and aligned with the needs of learners of this type.

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners learn best through hands-on learning opportunities. Students spend a lot of time sitting in classrooms and perhaps more passively learning. We need to design ways for students to be more active in the classroom. Some choices would be through a STEAM curriculum, the use of makerspaces, place-based learning, game-based learning and creation, designing projects and having students engage in project-based learning (PBL).

Multimodal Learners

For some students, providing options that foster a multimodal learning style is most beneficial. A multi-modal learning style means that you benefit through multiple ways of processing the information which can be through images, sounds, movement, speech, audio, visuals and more.  When I have used stations in my classroom, providing the different options at each station was helpful for students who are multimodal learners, to be able to interact with the content in different ways. Some of the tools that I have used include NearpodKahootQuizlet, in addition to giving students options to create something based on their own choice, which lends itself to more hands-on learning. The use of infographics, hyperdocs, choice boards, and even digital breakouts can give students a variety of ways to engage with the content and provide activities that will meet each learning style.

All students benefit from multimodal learning options that support a Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Providing something for each student and offering a mix of learning tools will help students to master the content in more authentic and personalized ways.

Interested in learning more about your own learning style preferences? You can take the VARK questionnaire and find out what type of learner you are.

Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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